oth at my previous startup and with the many subsequent startup founders that I’ve talked too since joining Google — the biggest mistake I constantly see new founders make is misjudging the matrix that almost everyone goes through when making a career (and most often life) changing decision. I certainly didn’t appreciate this as much as I should have when I was a founder and I urge anyone reading this post to deeply consider aspects highlighted in this post.
When you ask someone to join your company —you will almost immediately misjudge the impact it will have on their life. You are asking someone to ultimately change the value they attribute to their time in what they currently do — in order to encapsulate themselves in whatever it is you do. The value of this utility is ultimately the most valuable thing any person has — the opportunity to spend their time when and how they see fit.
If you are unable to relate to the person, inspire the person, compensate the person or truly enable them to believe in the growth opportunity you present — why would they offer up their most precious asset to work with, and ultimately, for you? Talented people, truly great people — understand the value of time. Its a common interview question of mine to press people on explaining to me how their organize and attribute value to it. The reality of the world is — most people don’t attribute enough value to their time and waste it frequently.
So as a founder, understand the importance of time. Its almost unequivocal at this point that building out an all star team is going to be the single most important aspect attributable to your companies success — a great team is always going to be able to derive a solution in good times and bad. But consider this — when you ask, or pitch, someone to join you — do you really appreciate the matrix of decisions that they are going through to join your company. Why would anyone want to spend their time with you?
In my experience to date, from startups through to Google, here are the only four major aspects that matter to people who attribute real value to their time. This is their opportunity cost matrix:
- Family — In a personal capacity, most people will not sacrifice their family for anything. It is always what is prioritized in people’s lives above all else — it is uncompromising. Equally, in a professional capacity, people want to feel that they have a real connection to their work mates and their team. Usually, a few extroverted people bind a team together and help it thrive. You know that you have a team that feels this way when someone leaves — you actually miss that person when they do. If you miss the importance of family in someones life, or you overlook it, you do so at extreme peril more often than not.
- Remuneration — Typically, no one works for free. People value their time and they deserve to be compensated for their skill. Cash is almost viewed to be infinitely more valuable than any equity you will provide someone. Great people need to be compensated well, or at least very fairly, from a cash standpoint and even better from an equity one. You might treat your equity at a premium, but asking someone to leave a top 10 tech company to join your team is asking them to move from a world of liquidity to a long life without it. Just look at the giants like Airbnb and Uber — more than 10 years later many employees still remain without any liquidity. So remember, more often than not I have found that liquid cash is king and that people work to care for their families.
- Growth — Everyone wants to advance their careers in some capacity — whether it be personal knowledge, leadership or the chance to be promoted. Not everyone cares about the later — some are very satisfied with a growth in their own knowledge without significant change in their ladder ranking. Equally, some do. Working on a product and with a team that facilities and enables growth ultimately leads to higher retention — promote people quickly who do a fantastic job and its often easy for you to tell who your organization could not live without. Do not fall into the trap of rewarding them “down the line” — the simple reason being that great people are quickly acquired and this matrix is more than likely being pitched to them at numerous other companies as well.
- Purpose — A purpose or mission is typically much bigger than what you are working on today. It’s the vision that you should be proud to tell your friends and family and is much larger than the current iteration of your product or company. Teams that don’t have a mission don’t know where they are going and aren’t connected through the shared bond of a greater goal or purpose. A mission is why you get up and come to work everyday and is typically something you really believe in. It isn’t captured by in metrics but in how you are trying to put a dint in the world. If you cannot inspire someone to believe in the purpose of what you are doing — then regardless of anything else — they will never truly ride the rollercoaster with you.
Everyone deserves to feel that they can grow their own careers and have a sense of personal achievement as they define it. Equally, they should be able to tell the world what they are passionate about, why they are working on it and have a defined sense of purpose. Everyone has to point north and believe in what they are doing — in fact
If everyone on your team can’t tell a friend very simply what problem your product is solving, why it’s unique, and why you will win, you might as well stop and go home now.
As an anecdote, and in this light, when I previously pitched to Alibaba’s investment arm and asked their investment partners why they worked at Alibaba. The response was the most impressive one ever heard:
“At Alibaba, we aim to build the future infrastructure of commerce. We envision that our customers will meet, work and live at Alibaba, and that we will be a company that spans over three centuries. We take a very long approach in every investment we make and everything we do.”
Your ambitions and goals should be as easily declared when anyone on your team is asked what it is you do — a clear vision, a clear sense of purpose, a passionate sense of worth and a guiding north star. Without it — why should anyone join you?
“And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.” — Steve Jobs, 2005